Lost Films of WWII (second episode) – BBC 4

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This nearly had me in tears – the interviews, more than the videos. One man who spoke about, as a 6-year-old boy, being very excited when his grandad came to meet him as he walked home from school … only for his grandad to have to break the news that his dad’s plane had been shot down over Germany. After decades of trying to find out exactly how their dad had died, in 2016 he and his brother were contacted by a German researcher, and they were able to visit the site where the plane came down, meet an elderly German man who, as a 12-year-old boy, had seen it happen, and visit the grave in which the crew had been buried. They’d brought back some bits and pieces from the plane: they said it was all they had of their dad. The brother didn’t even remember him: he’d only been a baby at the start of the war. Some of the film was incredible – that people had actually filmed parts of the Battle of the Mediterranean, the North Africa Campaign and the D-Day Landings. And how brave of people living in occupied Jersey to film what was going on, after filming had been banned, knowing what the Nazis might do to them if they were caught. There was also coverage of the war at home, including children Digging for Victory at a school in Sandbach.  And German POW camps.  To this day, I don’t know whether the story that our school home economics block was built by German POWs is true or not!

There was a lot of actual war coverage in this, and also coverage of British ships in the Far East before war with Japan actually broke out. It’s amazing that people did actually film it – even though they weren’t always supposed to. I suppose the worst that could have happened was that they’d have had their film confiscated and been disciplined, but people living in the occupied Channel Islands could have faced imprisonment and even death for recording what was going on. The personal stories were so touching. One man remembered how his family had become friendly with a Soviet POW, one of the men being used by the Nazis as slave labour, and how, when the man had stopped coming to their farm, they’d sadly had to assume that he’d died. Then, when Jersey was liberated, the man appeared at the celebrations: he’d escaped, and been in hiding. Back on the British mainland, people were being encouraged to put money into National Savings and fundraise for the war effort: that’s an aspect of the war that isn’t talked about much, and it was interesting to see films of fundraising drives.

Towards the end, we got film of the VE celebrations, but then, on a more sombre note, the focus switched to how people in the defeated nations were affected. We saw something of the devastation after the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, and the bomb damage in German cities. There was also quite a bit of film of German POW camps in Britain … which reminded me that I’d missed “The Keeper” when it was on at the pictures (it wasn’t on for long, and I just hadn’t got time to see it), and must keep an eye out for it being shown on Sky. There was always a story at my school that the home economics block had been built by German POWs. The school was destroyed during the Christmas Blitz of 1940, and rebuilt after the war, and it’s certainly quite possible that German POWs were sent to work on the rebuilding, but why the story attached to the home ec block rather than any other part of the school is a mystery!

Continuing with the Second World War theme, eighty years after war was declared, next Thursday there’s a programme on BBC 2 about whether or not the Allies should have bombed Auschwitz.  It’s a very difficult subject, and I hope the BBC do it justice.  The TV channels really are going all out for Second World War programmes this month, and some of them have been excellent.

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